Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Fall Guys

Not a lot going on for the Twins right now, and I wouldn't expect much for awhile. They're probably wise to see how the free agent market shakes out now that it has been inundated with non-tenders. I'd still like to see something at 2B or 3B, at least for the short term, but that deal could conceivably wait until spring training, as it did with Crede last year.

Still, there is baseball going on all over the Caribbean, and several prominent members of the Twins organization are active there. But before I focus on those leagues, which are only just getting going, I should look at the results of the Arizona Fall League, which concluded its season last month.

The Twins sent 7 prospects to the AFL. Two things to keep in mind: while many teams send guys who are nearly MLB-ready, the Twins have elected to send much less advanced prospects the past couple of seasons. Of the 7, only Rene Tosoni had spent more than half a season above A-ball. So the Twins' players had a bigger adjustment to make than a lot of the other guys in the league. The other thing is that the AFL's numbers are grotesquely skewed in favor of the hitters. The average batter this fall hit .281/.361/.443 (about .040 points of OPS higher than the AL), while the average pitcher was flogged for a 5.35 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. Understanding that context, here's how everybody did:

Chris Parmelee, 1B/OF .250/.337/.550
For me, his performance is the most outstanding. Just 21 years old, with no experience above A+ Fort Myers, Parmelee managed to more than hold his own. The BA was below average - typical of Parmelee's career so far. But he maintained his strong isolated discipline while showing far above average power. He'll start 2010 in AA, and presently projects to take over the DH position once Jason Kubel's contract expires after 2011.

Steve Singleton, 2B .289/.291/.500
As nice as it is to see plus power from a 2B, I find Singleton's performance to be pretty disheartening. In an environment in which the average hitter put up an .080 IsoD, he managed to draw just 1 BB in 79 PA. Really? Such an utter lack of patience can only be overcome by outstanding defense and/or speed, and Singleton didn't attempt a SB in the AFL while committing 5 E in 19 G. He'll probably go back to New Britain next year, but unless he figures out how to take a walk immediately, I don't know that he'll be able to rise much higher.

Rene Tosoni, OF .218/.310/.333
After a breakout campaign at New Britain, Tosoni brought some rather high expectations into the AFL, and he did not deliver. Still, Danny Valencia was lousy in the AFL last year, and it didn't hurt him come the following spring. Tosoni will be in the OF mix at AAA.

Alex Burnett, RP 3.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
A starter through the lower levels, the Twins decided that Burnett's rather small frame (6'0", 190 lbs.) wasn't going to hold up in that role, so they shifted him to the bullpen. He thrived there for 78 IP between A+ and AA, and continued to stand out in the AFL. His ERA was about 2 runs better than average, and he held opponents to a .162 BA, while keeping the ball in the yard (he was the only member of the Mesa team not to allow a HR). He's on the fast track now - I don't see why he wouldn't start 2010 at AAA.

Spencer Steedley, RP 4.50 ERA, 2.14 WHIP
An emerging LOOGY, Steedley's splits were as severe as could be in the AFL. That ghastly WHIP was almost entirely the result of his appearances vs. RH batters, who collected 12 H and 10 BB off him in just 6 IP, including both HR allowed. But he held lefties to a .143 average and 1.00 WHIP in 8 IP. He'll return to AA to start 2010, and, used properly, should be an effective reliever.

Mike McCardell, SP 7.27 ERA, 1.61 WHIP
McCardell was off to a pretty good start in the AFL before he got rocked in his 3rd GS. He complained of shoulder soreness and was shut down. He should begin next season in New Britain.

Steve Hirschfeld, SP 11.17 ERA, 1.96 WHIP
A standout performer at Fort Myers last season, Hirschfeld got lit up in just about every other start in the AFL. He had 10 K/9, however, so that's at least something to build on. He'll get his first taste of AA next spring.


Chris Province, RP 3.46 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
The player to be named later in the Boof Bonser trade, Province is a sinker-ball specialist who allowed just 3 HR in 79.2 IP in the Eastern League last year. He gave up 1 in 13 IP in the AFL, and actually allowed more flies than grounders, but held opposing hitters to a .200 BA and was very effective against lefties. He'll join AFL alums Burnett, Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney in what is suddenly a pretty intriguing Rochester bullpen.

Now, a few highlights from the Caribbean...

One of the most exciting developments there has been the play of C Wilson Ramos, ranked by many as the Twins' #3 prospect. His numbers in AA were good this year, but a couple of injuries limited him to just over 200 AB, and he didn't show very much patience (6 BB) or power (4 HR). He's up to 191 AB in Venezuela right now, hitting .346/.411/.597 with 20 BB and 11 HR. His winter league performance almost certainly means he'll begin 2010 in AAA. If the Twins can't re-sign Joe Mauer, he becomes the C of the future. If they can re-sign Mauer, do they really need a backup C this good? What kind of MI or SP could Ramos bring in a trade?

I was high on Dustin Martin after his AFL performance last year, but he hit just .254/.319/.351 with a 92/39 K/BB ratio in Rochester. So I was glad to see him carrying an OPS of around .900 with a nearly 1/1 K/BB rate for most of his time in the VWL. His patience tailed off at the end, as he struck out 9 times without a walk over his final 10 games, but his BA was .350 and he slugged .575 over that stretch, so I can't complain too much. Overall, he hit .298/.395/.477 with a 37/25 K/BB ratio. He still might be a decent option if Delmon Young disappoints again.

Francisco Liriano has headed to the Dominican Republic to try to work through the poor fastball command that ruined his 2009 season. Early returns are very good. Through his first 3 GS, spanning 11.2 IP, he has a 1.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 17/2 K/BB ratio. I'll be following his exploits with great interest throughout the remainder of the winter.

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